As paraphrased in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Blake Flanders, Kansas Board of Regents president and CEO, lamented the fact that “over the past three years, Regents institutions had lost $75 million.”
It is hard to know how Flanders arrived at the $75 million figure; it’s also noteworthy that the newspaper didn’t bother to vet the claim. In reality, over the past three years, the state has increased the funding of the six Regents universities from $399.6 million to $399.8 million. “Losing money” in government parlance usually means not getting as much as one wants.
Admittedly, state support of the six universities has not kept up with inflation over time, but most of the blame for tuition increases falls squarely on the Regents and the universities.
Between the fiscal years of 2003 and 2017, inflation added 32.3 percent to the cost of living, and state aid did fall 1.4 percent, but tuition increases rose wildly beyond what those numbers would suggest as reasonable. At Fort Hays State University, the most prudent of the six, tuition increased 113 percent over that period. At the University of Kansas, the least prudent, tuition increased 268 percent.
Such tuition increases are hardly unique to Kansas. To understand why tuition has increased so much one need look little further than the surge in administrative costs. So argues Paul Campos writing in the New York Times. As Campos notes, administrators everywhere have been blaming “radical cuts” in public funding for the tuition increases. Campos calls this claim “a fairy tale in the worst sense, in that it is not merely false, but rather almost the inverse of the truth.”
Campos observes that public investment in higher education is “vastly larger” today, even in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was in the alleged golden age of public funding in the 1960s. The increase in tuition, he argues, is due less to faculty salaries, which have scarcely increased in real dollars over the last forty-five years, than to administrative costs. Across the country, there has been a staggering increase not only in the number of administrators, but also in their salaries relative to the faculty.
Before asking the beleaguered taxpayers of Kansas for more money, the Board of Regents might want to ask why 196 of the 200 most highly paid state employees in 2015 all worked for a university. In fact, there were 267 faculty and staff on Regents institutions’ payrolls making more than $200,000 a year, including eight making more than $500,000.
These numbers, by the way, do not include coaches. That is a story for another day.